English Premier League
Saturday 24 March 2012, 17.30 KO
City: Hart, Zabaleta (Milner 84), Richards (c), K Toure, Clichy, Barry (Tevez 74), Y Toure, Silva (A Johnson 62), Nasri, Balotelli, Dzeko
Unused: Pantilimon, Kolarov, Savic, de Jong
Goals: Y Toure (76)
Booked: Barry, Y Toure
Referee: Howard Webb
Man of the Match: Pablo Zabaleta
It was a tentative opening from both sides, with neither team able to get a good hold of the ball. A Nasri free kick was just over the head Dzeko, before Balotelli couldn’t quite squeeze between the two Stoke centre-backs to run on to a through ball. Joe Hart was twice alert to, first, come off his line to clear the danger and, second, collect a John Walters cross, driven across goal. But the opening stages offered little to write home about.
At the quarter-hour mark, City had their first real spell of pressure. The final shot from Silva was deflected behind and the visitors made nothing of the corner. The hosts replied with their first spell of pressure, too, though John Walter’s shot-come-cross missed everybody and curled behind. It was very much tit-for-tat.
Zabaleta had a left-footed shot deflected behind as he joined in an attack down the right flank, before some good build-up between Nasri, Dzeko and Zabaleta gave Yaya Toure the chance to shoot from the edge of the box. His effort, however, curled over the bar and didn’t trouble the goalkeeper. Dzeko couldn’t quite stretch to meet a Nasri cross with any conviction, and the ball dropped harmlessly wide, after the game restarted from Silva receiving treatment for a cut to the head.
With the half hour up, Dzeko missed City’s best chance of the half after Clichy had been fortunate to keep the ball in. Nasri laid the ball off to the City left back and his cross found the Bosnian unmarked at the back post, but his header was too high and wide to trouble Begovic. Yaya Toure then took his turn to nod a Nasri cross into the goalkeeper’s hands; City were seeing a lot of the ball, but weren’t looking overly dangerous with it.
Nasri and Silva tried a one-two on the edge of the box, but couldn’t force their way through a tight defence, before Zabaleta should have done a lot better as he came on to a ball into the area and side-footed his effort straight at the covering defenders. A Stoke free kick almost gave the hosts a free shot at the back post, but the shot hit Etherington and he couldn’t control it.
With five minutes to play before half time, it was Zabaleta to the rescue as he cleared off the line from a Stoke corner. Shawcross had flicked the delivery past Hart at the near post, but the Argentine full back was in the right place to keep the ball out. Balotelli worked his way into the Stoke box after beating Walters, but his curling effort was comfortable for Begovic.
Forty seconds into the second half, Dzeko was found well breaking into the area as Shawcross tried to play him offside. He wasn’t and took a good touch to set himself up to shoot, but Begovic was off his line quickly to block the ball behind. Nasri’s effort from range then needed Begovic to save at full stretch, but it was weakly hit. The hosts responded: Hart needed to make himself big to block a header from Crouch, after Jerome had nodded it back into the six-yard box.
With just under an hour played, Peter Crouch put the hosts in front – largely against the run of play. He took the ball twenty-five yards out and volleyed it into the top corner, giving Joe Hart no chance. City didn’t deserved to be behind and could have had a free kick in the build up for a nudge on Barry, but they were – and they needed to fight back once again.
A brilliant ball through to Balotelli needed Begovic to come steaming off his line to clear, but the ball fell straight to Johnson on the edge. He couldn’t get a shot in quickly and Yaya Toure’s effort took a deflection, landing straight into the goalkeeper’s arms. City were frustrated again and Tevez was called to join the action.
It was virtually an immediate effect. Yaya Toure picked the ball up mid-way into the Stoke half and decided to have a potshot. It flicked off the head of Shawcross and beat Begovic, who could only push the ball into the top corner and the visitors were level.
Stoke had a goal ruled out from a corner, as the ball was ajudged to have curled out from the kick. Then, late pressure from City couldn’t force the ball into the net, as first Clichy had a good cross nodded clear, before Nasri’s effort was deflected away and Dzeko’s volley was blocked into the arms of Begovic, before Palacios curled a shot over as the amount stoppage time was showed.
Yaya Toure tried to find a winner with a left-footed drive from a similar range from where he scored, but the effort flashed over the bar, as the clock ticked down for City. With seconds to play, a Stoke free kick caused havoc in the City box, as Hart came and missed, but Jones fouled Dzeko and there wasn’t enough time for the blues to fashion another shooting chance.
City were back on top of the league, but having played a game more than United and only by goal difference. It’s not a disaster for City, but the task may have just gotten a little harder.